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Twenty years of haunting eidetic imagery: where's the ghost?

  • Ralph Norman Haber (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This paper is a theoretical analysis of eidetic imagery, based upon the author's ten-year study of elementary-school-aged children. The presence of eidetic imagery is inferred from reports of persisting visual images of stimuli when they are no longer in view. According to the criteria for differentiating eidetic images from afterimages, eidetic images should occur even when saccadic eye movements are made during exposure to the stimulus; it should be possible to make saccadic eye movements while one is reporting the image without the image also moving; the image should last long, and it should be positive. The criteria for differentiating eidetic images from nonvisual memorial representations include: reports of seeing an image projected onto a surface in space, the consistent use of present tense when reporting images as opposed to past tense when reporting from nonvisual memory, and the ability to superimpose two images and report the composite image.

Eidetic images are only available to a small percentage of children 6–12 years old, and are virtually nonexistent in adults. However, extensive research has failed to demonstrate consistent correlates between the presence of eidetic imagery and any cognitive, intellectual, neurological, or emotional measure. The negative correlation between eidetic imagery and age has prompted hypotheses to explain eidetic imagery as a developmentally less mature memorial representation, which is gradually replaced by more abstract representations as the child acquires abstract thought, reading, and more advanced cognitive abilities. The evidence in the present review casts doubt on this hypothesis on numerous grounds: an extensive longitudinal study over the entire span of elementary school years found that eidetic abilities remain remarkably stable; there is no correlation between eidetic imagery and abstract thinking or reading performance; there is no higher incidence in preschool ages, among retarded or brain-injured subjects, or among illiterate subjects in crosscultural studies.

It is concluded that we should not abandon work on eidetic imagery or simply force it into a preconceived mold of what memory must be, but rather, expand work on the phenomenological indicators of perception and memory.

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References
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The literature on eidetic imagery spans nearly a century, several languages, and many topics; I have attempted to collect a complete bibliography of works written or published between 1900 and 1978. I have subdivided it into five headings: primary sources of empirical data on eidetic imagery, individual case studies of subjects with eidetic imagery, theoretical and review articles on eidetic imagery and related topics, cross-cultural studies of eidetic imagery, and studies on eidetic imagery using neurologically impaired subjects. In the article I have referred to a few theoretical papers on other topics, and these have been included in a final category of general references. Of course, many of the articles reporting new data also have theoretical discussions, but I have not listed them twice. Within the big categories of data and theory, I have divided the references appearing before and after 1964, as this date reflects a substantial change in methodology.

Empirical studies of eidetic imagery – pre-1964

Ahsen A. (1959) Hemispheric experiments on eidetic images of parents. Paper presented at the Pakistan Science Conference. [AA]
Ahsen A. (1962) Eidetic images: a study of imagery steps for the evocation of mental structures. Paper presented at the Psychological Society, Rawalpindi. [AA]
Allport G. W. (1924) Eidetic imagery. British Journal of Psychology. 15: 99120. [AA, RNH, DHH, IL, DM, CR]
Allport G. W. (1928) The eidetic image and the afterimage. American Journal of Psychology. 41: 418–25. [RNH, CR]
Bonté T. H. (1933) Über die Suggestibilität von Eidetikern und Nichteidetikern (The suggestibility of eidetikers and noneidetikers). Zeitschrift für angewandte Psychologic 44: 161–92. [RNH]
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Gengerelli J. A. (1930) Some quantitative experiments with eidetic imagery. American Journal of Psychology. 42: 399404. [RNH]
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Jaensch E. R. (1930) Eidetic imagery and typological methods of investigation. Translated by Oeser O.. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; New York: Harcourt Brace. [AA, RNH]
Jaensch E. R., and Jaensch W. (1921) Über die Verbreitung der eidetischen Anlage im Jugendalter (On the incidence of eidetic ability during the years of youth). Zeitschrift für Psychologie. 87: 91. [RNH]
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Karger P. (1925) Die eidetische Anlage der Jugendlichen in ihre Bedeutung für die Klinik und die Schulleistungen (The eidetic ability of youth and its importance for the performance in clinic and school). Klinische Wochenschrift. 4: 2247. [RNH]
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Klüver H. (1932) Eidetic phenomena. Psychological Bulletin. 29: 181203. [RNH, IL, DM]
Krellenberg P. (1922) Über die Herausdifferenzierung der Wahrnehmungs und Vorstellungswelt aus der originaren eidetischen Einheit (The development of perception and imagination from a primary eidetic state). Zeitschrift für Psychologic 88: 56119. [RNH]
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Liefman E. (1928) Untersuchungen über die eidetische Veranlagung von Schulerinnen einer hoheren Mädchenschule. Anhang: Einzelne Untersuchunger an Erwachsenen (Research on eidetic abilities in a girls' high school. Appendix: Individual research on adults). Zeitschrift für angewandte Psychologic. (Beihefte) 43: 111–96. [RNH]
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Meenes M. (1934) The relationship of the eidetic phenomenon to the after-image and to the memory-image. Psychological Bulletin. 31: 739. [RNH]
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Wachtel J. (1934) Studjum eidetyzmu wsrod dorostych (Studies of eideticism in adults). Kwartalnik Psychologiczny. 5: 394401. [RNH]
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Dirks J. (1978) Spatial memory of two eidetic subjects. Paper presented to the American Psychological Association, Toronto. [UN]
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Furst C. J.; Fuld K.; and Pancoe M. (1974) Recall accuracy of eidetikers. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 102: 1133–35. [AA, CJF, RNH]
Furst C. J.; Gardner J.; and Kamiya J. (1974) Posterior alpha-wave characteristics of eidetic children. Psychophysiology. 11: 603–6. [RNH]
Giray E. F.; Altkin W. M.; Roodin P. A.; Yoon G.; and Flagg P. (1978) The incidence of eidetic imagery in adulthood and old age. Paper presented at American Psychological Association meeting, Toronto. [RNH, PAR, PWS]
Giray E. F.; Altkin W. M.; Vaught G. M.; and Roodin P. A. (1976) The incidence of eidetic imagery as a function of age. Child Development. 47: 1,207–10. [RNH]
Gummerman K.; Gray C. R.; and Wilson J. M. (1972) An attempt to assess eidetic imagery objectively. Psychonomic Science. 28: 115–18. [CJF, RNH, DHH]
Haber R. N. (1969) Eidetic images. Scientific American. 220(4):3644. [RNH]
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Hatakeyama T. (1974) The process of having identified an adult eidetic person and her eidetic experiences in daily life. Tohoku Psychologica Folia. 33: 102–18 [RNH, DM]
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Heinerth K., and Nickel H. (1975) Reproduktionsleistungen von 10–14 jährigen Schülern und Studenten nach kurzzeitiger Darbietung einer Bildvorlage: Anschauliche Vorstellungen oder subjektive Anschauungsbilder? (Reproductions of 10–14 year olds and university students after a short-term presentation of a picture: memory or eidetic images). Psychologie in Erziehung und Unterricht. 22: 148–60. [RNH, KH]
Lamb H. L. (1974) Eye movement in eidetic imagery. Dissertation Abstracts International. 35: 548. [RNH]
Leask J., Haber R. N., and Haber R. B. (1969) Eidetic imagery in children: II. Longitudinal and experimental results. Psychonomic Monograph Supplements. 3: 2548. [AA, KAE, RNH, JJ, BJ, PWS]
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Lin C-S. (1972) An experimental study of visual eidetic imagery of Chinese school children. Dissertation Abstracts International. 33: 1,025. [RNH]
McBroom P. (1970) Is your memory photographic? Philadelphia Inquirer. November 8, Sec. 2, p. 1. [JOM]
Mcllwain D. J. (1978) Eidetic abilities: a study of spontaneous and post-picture imagery. Honors thesis, University of Otago. [DM]
McMains M. J. (1975) The recall of geometric and random figures by children with eidetic memory under conditions of interpolated interference. Dissertation Abstracts International. 35: 3,620. [RNH]
Merritt J. (1973) Do you have a photographic memory? Informative Articles. pp. 16. [JOM]
Nickel H.; Heinerth K.; and Bittman F. (1975) Gibt es wirklich Eidetiker? (Eidetic ability: fact or artifact?) Untersuchungen mit stereoskopischen Vorlagen an Schulkindern und Studierenden. Psychologie in Erziehung und Unterricht. 22: 259–73. [RNH, KH]
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Onizawa T., and Seki Y. (1975) Recall of eidetic children. Tohoku Psychologica Folia. 34: 3337. [RNH]
Paivio A., and Cohen M. W. (1977) Eidetic imagery and figurai abilities in children. Paper presented at a symposium on current directions in imagery, eidetic and otherwise, at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco. [JB, RNH, DHH]
Pierro P. S. (1966) An investigation of visual form perception and eidetic imagery in students who read well and spell poorly. Doctoral dissertation, Northern Illinois University. [RNH]
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Stromeyer C. F. III (1970) Eidetikers. Psychology Today. 4: 7680. [RNH, JOM]
Stromeyer C. F. III, and Psotka J. (1970) The detailed texture of eidetic images. Nature. 225: 347–49. [BB, DCD, RNH, KH, DHH, BJ, IL, JOM, BW]
Wallace B. (1978) Restoration of eidetic imagery via hypnotic age regression: more evidence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 87: 673–75. [BW]
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